Councils in England should stop sitting on multi-million pound vacant houses and reinvest in more affordable homes, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said today (26 November 2014).
The Communities Secretary said the sale of just one high-value council house could help fund more affordable house building, increase supply and reduce social housing waiting lists.
This is all part of the government’s long-term economic plan to get Britain building and is the latest in a number of measures taken since 2010 to make the best possible use of social housing.
Social housing waiting lists have halved since 2010 - but the new rules could bring this down even further.
Multi-million pound properties
From April, councils will be required to publish the most recent valuation of their social housing stock, annually to ensure it is being put to best use.
The information will be published by postcode, listing how much the properties are worth, how many are occupied and how many are standing empty.
The move will give people the information they need to ask questions of how their council is managing stock – and how selling more expensive properties could provide the funds for councils to build more homes and reduce waiting times.
Councils could also sell their higher-value empty properties, releasing more money for house building without affecting existing tenants’ rights.
And with the numbers of empty homes down by 160,000 since the end of 2009 to a 10-year low, this could reduce the numbers of empty properties even further.
For example, Southwark council were able to sell off one of their council homes for a staggering £3 million – helping to fund the building of 20 new properties across the borough.
Mr Pickles argued that other councils across the country could follow suit - potentially helping thousands of families by selling their higher-value vacant homes.
Councils across the country are sitting on millions of pounds which could be put to far better use and get them building elsewhere in the area. This would allow more families to come off social housing waiting lists and get into homes.
Instead of holding that money as equity in expensive empty properties, the councils should sell up those vacant buildings and reinvest the money to get the country building.
Through the government’s Affordable Homes Programme, £19.5 billion public and private funding has been invested in affordable house building, with a further £23.3 billion investment planned from 2015 to 2018. Over 200,000 new affordable homes have been delivered since 2010.
House building is a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan and since 2010 a range of measures have been taken to ensure the best possible use of social housing.
Other measures include:
- combating social housing tenancy fraud – this is now a criminal offence, punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine; councils have also received £19 million to find fraudsters in their area
- new guidance, which makes clear only hard-working families with a well-established residency, relatives or job in the local area can go on their council’s waiting list, so they are the first to benefit when homes become available
- encouraging councils to publish details of who is applying for and getting social housing in their area, as well as full details of how they allocate their homes, to increase confidence in the system